An agenda for change in U.S. climate policy? Presidential ambitions and

An agenda for change in U.S. climate
policy? Presidential ambitions and
Congressional powers
Tora Skodvin and Steinar Andresen (co-author)
LSE Workshop: Carbon Markets
London, May 5 2009.
Presidential ambitions: Key points in Obama’s
climate policy program
• Make the United States a leader on climate change by
rejoining the UN-based negotiation process with an aim
to develop an international climate treaty.
• GHG emissions objectives:
– Stabilise GHG emissions at their 1990-levels by 2020
– 80% reduction in GHG emissions from 1990-levels
by 2050
– Economy-wide cap-and-trade, no free allocation of
emission credits.
Congressional powers
• The president can negotiate international treaties, but only
”with the Advice and Consent of the Senate” (U.S.
Constitution, Article II, Section 2);
• International treaties require ratification by a 2/3 qualified
majority of the Senate (67 votes) (Article II, Section 2);
• When ratified, international treaties acquire the same status
as federal law and are subjected to the same implementation
regime (Article VI).
• Implications:
– The United States rarely joins international treaties that are not
founded on existing federal law.
– Ability to take on international leadership role depends on the
adoption of federal climate legislation.
– Congress has a significant role to play in the realisation of
Obama’s climate policy ambitions.
2008 Elections: Reinforced Democratic majority
in both chambers of Congress
House of Representatives:
• 257 Democrats, 178 Republicans (218 required for
• Republicans lost 19 seats in the House
• 56 Democrats, 2 independent (that normally vote with
the Democrats), 1 undecided (Minnesota)
• 1 switch from Republican to Democrat (Arlen Specter)
• Democrats control a ”filibuster-proof” majority of 60
Ideological dimension important, but regional
dimension also significant
Coal-producing states
Source: Energy Information Administration,
States with GHG emissions
Source: Pew Center on Global Climate Change,
The regional conflict dimension in the
Congressional climate policy debate
• 110th Congress: Group of 10+ Democratic senators
signaled their opposition to the Warner-Lieberman
– Coal-producing states strongly represented;
– Support, in principle, mandatory GHG emissions regulations;
– But do not support ambitious and costly measures
(particularly short term).
• 111th Congress: Observers have identified 43
undecided senators;
– 12: ”Probably yes”, 10: ”Probably no”, 21: ”Fence sitters”
– 56% of the ”Fence sitters” are Democrats, 71% represent
coal-producing states. (Source: Environment & Energy
• These senators will not vote for climate policy legislation
that conflicts with the interests of their constituencies.
What could U.S. climate legislation look like?
• Level of ambition:
– Most proposals less ambitious than, for instance, EU position
– Short-term targets (2020) likely to be more controversial than
long-term targets
• Policy instruments:
– All proposals include cap-and-trade provisions, but
acceptability linked to system design.
– Notably, cost containment mechanism is likely: ”Safety valve”
or ”Carbon market Efficiency Board”. A ”hybrid” system (trade
→ tax) would imply incompatibility with the EU ETS.
• Concern about risk of ”carbon leakage”:
– All proposals include ”border tax adjustment” or similar
measure to protect competitiveness of U.S. industry.
New opportunities offered by the financial crisis:
A ”Green New Deal”?
• Economic stimulus package of USD 700+ billion adopted in
• Key feature: linkage of economic, energy security and climate
change issues.
• Energy-related provisions will have low impact on GHG
emissions unless they are combined with comprehensive
climate legislation that puts a price on carbon.
• Educational effect: GHG measures can be economically
profitable and serve other purposes linked to energy security.
• But: Republicans sceptical of this argument. Congressional
vote on stimulus reveals deep partisan (ideological) split.
Prospects for change in U.S. climate policy
”This was the moment when the rise of the oceans began
to slow and our planet began to heal”
• President Obama has embarked on a shift in U.S. climate
policy both at the domestic and international levels.
• Mobilising sufficient Congessional support for federal climate
legislation will be challenging even with a reinforced
democratic majority in Congress.
• Federal climate legislation may be adopted in 2010 at the
• Obama’s delegation will likely go to Copenhagen without a
clear Congressional mandate. Important not to repeat the
mistakes of the Clinton administration in Kyoto: U.S.
commitments must be negotiated on the basis of status in the
domestic decision-making process.
• Even with federal legislation in place, the stretch from 60 to
67 votes in the Senate may be a long one.